Kieft Sports Cars

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Following the correspondence in the July and August issues, Merrick Taylor (who was closely associated with the Kieft Company in the mid-1950s) has written with some interesting background to the history of the sixth 1100 cc Kieft and has kindly allowed us to use the photographs reproduced on this page. He writes: “In late 1954, Berwyn Baxter and I visited Cyril Kieft’s Wolverhampton factory to see if he would build a Kieft sports car based on the 1100 cc type, but fitted with a 1500 cc Connaught engine since we had admired the superb, although slightly heavy. 1500 cc Connaught sports car during the 1954 season. Only one of these Connaughts was made (I think) and it was driven outstandingly by WT Smith who was, I believe, tragically killed at Dundrod in the 1955 TT. [Seven cars were involved in a second lap pile-up in this race and both Smith (Connaught) and Jim Mayers (Cooper) lost their lives. — Ed.)

“The real pace setter in the 1500 cc class was Peter Gammon with an MG engined Lotus (Mk 6 style) and we wanted to compete successfully in this class. Cyril Kieft agreed to the project, but early on he persuaded Berwyn Baxter to consider the locally made Turner 1500 cc engine which was, like the Connaught engine, a Lea-Francis based design, fitted with SU indirect fuel-injection and twin-plug alloy head. It was a very advanced design for the time and might have been the first engine with SU fuel injection, although I know that BRM were using a similar SU system in 1956.

“The car was built during the winter of 1954,5 with the Turner engine, but problems quickly surfaced first with cooling, necessitating the fitting of an ugly air-scoop to the bonnet, then with head gasket failures and always there was extreme difficulty in keeping the fuel-iniection on tune — it was very sensitive to fuel and atmospheric pressure changes, a very difficult combination of variables for a racing engine. Performance on the bench was excellent. “The car was used for club races early in 1955 and competed at Montlhery and in the Le Mans 24 hour race. For Le Mans, the fuel iniection system was replaced by rare, Weber like, Solex carburetters, in spite of which, engine unreliability caused retirement. Numerous club events showed that the Turner engine could be tantalisingly superb or brief moments. but due to poor development, it was never reliable.

“In mid-1955, the car was fitted with an MG engine preparatory for the Goodwood Nine Hour race, and the car reverted to its original pretty ‘1100’ shape. It was in this form that the car competed in the 1955 TT with Berwyn Baxter and Max Trimble, creditably finishing fifth in class. . .

In 1956, Berwyn Baxter purchased the assets of Kieft Cars from Cyril Kieft and I became General Manager of the re-named Kieft Sports Car Company. We actually started operations in 1957 at Bordesley Street in Birmingham, preparing racing and sports cars, handling such famous cars as ERA R4B for Tommy Norton, ERA ‘Remus’,  (which incidentally, I sold to one Patrick Lindsay!), Gil Baird’s Lister Bristol, the ex-Ken Wharton DB3S Aston Martin which Ben Baxter raced successfully in 1956 and 1957 and many others.

“Meanwhile, the Kieft ‘1100’ sports car was rebodied in late 1956 as a prototype for a road going sports car aimed at the North American market (some similarity with the much later Jensen-Healey). However, due to other commitments including the development of an ultra-light space-frame 1100 cc sports car, the project never got off the ground. At the sale of assets of the Connaught concern I purchased a 2-litre Connaught engine to realise the earlier dream of a Kieft-Connaught, intending to make my ideal long distance sports car, but the car was sold in bits when the Kieft Sports Car Company was sold to Lionel Hayman in 1959.

It was in 1959, when working as Works Manager for one of Cyril Kieft’s engineering companies, that he asked me if I could locate an original 1100 cc Kieft. I did find a rather poor dark green example at Performance Cars and drove it to Alec Francis, whose small establishment specialised in sports car preparation. There, beside the Dick Protheroe Lister-Jaguar, the little Kieft was restored by one of my ex-Kieft mechanics, Paul Ivey. Having traced a suitable registration number in Stafford, ACK 123, the car was driven late onc evening to Cyril Kieft’s house to he presented to his daughter Anne. I remember working all the previous night to complete this beautiful powder blue car, only arriving at the very end of Anne’s 21st birthday party.

“On the subject of registration numbers, it was the LDA series (not LUK) which Cyril Kieft had reserved. Apart from the early NDA 172 (which, incidentally, was racing in 1958 under the ownership of Ivor Newby), the ultimate LDA 5 on Berwyn Baxter’s car confirms it as the last of the six cars made..

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